The last year has been a strange one for professional sports in San Diego.
Of course, the Chargers left for greener dollars in Los Angeles. The rise of professional hockey in San Diego with the Gulls has been fun to watch, and the city seems poised to welcome a Major League Soccer team in the next couple years.
A smaller but important story for baseball fans, however, has also been slowly playing out. At a time when terrestrial radio faces an uncertain future, two of San Diego’s iconic stations are making significant gambles in an effort to bring in new fans with new ideas. Last year, the Padres announced they would be leaving their longtime home radio station, the Mighty 1090 AM, for FM 94.9.
The move was interesting in a few ways. Traditionally sports stations are on the AM dial, and although it’s becoming more popular for sports talk radio to switch to FM, it’s still not common, like podcasts or Brussels sprouts.
It’s even rarer for a music station, especially an alternative rock station, to take a mid-day break from music to air live sporting events. In San Diego, we could hear Chargers games on Rock 105.3, an FM station, but that was only on Sundays and for a few hours out of the day, 16 times a year. The Padres play 162 games a year, and those games can last three and a half hours or longer. For a music heavy station to make that kind of regular programming change is so uncommon it can only be found in two other cities in America.
Listener reaction has been varied. 1090 fans are mixed on having to switch over to an FM station, and many 94.9 fans are upset the station stops playing music for hours at a time. Some baseball fans in the county say 94.9 doesn’t reach them in the first place, while others praise the audio quality since the Padres left 1090. Like with anything in the world: People like it or people hate it, like with podcasts or Brussels sprouts.
So, why the switch?
“It was a business decision on our end,” said Mike Glickenhaus, president and market manager at the Mighty 1090. “However, we still have a great relationship with the team. We’re still able to have the players and coaches on our shows to talk baseball and the team.”
The station still runs “Padres Wednesdays,” in which it features Padres owner Ron Fowler on its morning program, Manager Andy Green on its mid-day show and General Manager AJ Preller during afternoon drive time.
Mighty 1090 has one big advantage over 94.9: Since it’s all sports talk all the time, it has the flexibility to have players and coaches on whenever it wants.
But this advantage doesn’t deter Rich Herrera.
Herrera is program director of the brand new Padres Radio and padresradio.com, which is what FM 94.9 officially becomes once it’s game time.
“The beauty of being on the FM frequency is the quality of sound. The difference is incredible, and what we’re able to do with fidelity makes the bumpers, announcers and sounds of the game sound so clear and thick.”
I told Herrera that I’ve heard fans have already picked up on this, and he got even more excited.
“The mics are so good that we had to bring in more during spring training just to hear the ambient sounds of the game!” he said. “Wherever we pointed them, that’s exactly what they’d pick up – it was amazing.”
Padres fans have, however, been concerned that the station can only carry games, including much shortened pre- and post-game shows, hosted by Herrera.
But Herrera thinks that could be a temporary problem, as technology continues to fundamentally change content delivery.
“We are making everything on-demand online,” he said. “We’re adding videos and graphs to the existing mp3 calls you can get of each game. We’re launching ‘Padres On Deck,’ where you get to see interviews and segments with Padres’ minor leaguers and broadcasters. We have listener-driven rapid-fire Q-and-As with players and coaches, and so much more coming online.”
They still have the classic broadcast, with “Uncle Teddy” (Ted Leitner) as the voice of the Padres, and Jesse Agler in the booth. They’ve added Tony Gwynn Jr. to the team, and Herrera live in-game interviews with fans, celebrities, players and coaches.
Early feedback is mixed, but Herrera is staying positive.
“We have a lot planned, and it’s all centered around this team and this town,” he said.
Glickenhaus and the Mighty 1090 have been trying new things too. They’ve brought in longtime FM broadcaster and recent 94.9 morning jock Chris Cantore to host his own show Monday through Friday from 6-9 p.m.
“He’ll bring a wider range of topics to the station: action sports, surfing, skateboarding and more,” Glickenhaus said. “It’ll be a San Diego lifestyle show.”